Saturday, July 31, 2010

Public Interest in Chelsea Clinton's Wedding Misplaced

In many of the newspapers and on many of the cable news networks in recent weeks, the upcoming wedding of Chelsea Clinton has become a fairly large news story. Back in 2008, a similar minor media frenzy surrounded the wedding of Jenna Bush. This sort of thing is ridiculous and points to a decided lack of perspective in both the American media and the American public at large.

The personal lives of the President and his family are not the business of the American public, and citizens should be no more interested in the wedding of a President's daughter than they would be in the wedding of their mailman's daughter. The attention lavished on the personal lives and families of the President (which really got out of control during the Kennedy years in the early 1960s) seem more akin to monarchical sympathies one might expect to find in the United Kingdom, but should have no place in the United States. After all, we kicked out our last king in 1776.

Not only that, but there are an infinite number of other news stories that the media would be well-advised to turn bring to the attention of the public: the national debt, rampant corruption in the government, increasing corporate control over the lives of citizens, the fact that tens of thousands of children die around the world every day from preventable starvation and disease, to name just a few. The media's proper role is to educate the American people about the important issues of the day, not distract them with mindless drivel.

The American media really needs to wake up and start doing its job.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Massachusetts Legislatures Endorses National Popular Vote for President

Very good news in the struggle to abolish the Electoral College. According to this story in the Boston Globe, the Massachusetts Legislature has passed legislation bringing the state into the National Popular Vote coalition. The bill will now go to the governor, who has long expressed his support for the measure. Masschusetts thus joins Hawaii, Washington, Illinois, Maryland, and New Jersey in supporting the right of the American people to select the President by a fair vote.

The legislation passed by Massachusetts and the other states is simple, requiring that the state's representatives sent to the Electoral College vote for the candidate who has won the majority of popular votes in the election. This neatly sidesteps the undemocratic and outmoded Electoral College system without even requiring the long and difficult road of obtaining a constituitional amendment. The legislation will only take effect when a sufficient number of states representing the majority of electoral votes have passed identical laws, thus creating an effective national popular vote for President.

As this blog has pointed out in the past, the Electoral College is blatantly undemocratic and should be done away with. Massachusetts has pushed us a little further in the right direction, and 21st Century Jeffersonians should do their best to persuade their own state legislatures to follow suit.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Alaska Voters Should Kick Congressman Don Young Out Of Office

2010 is a mid-term election year, and even though we will not be choosing a President this time around, it is always vital for 21st Century Jeffersonians to follow genuine political news (as opposed to hack stories churned out by the noise machines of both the right and left) in order to best be able to make informed decisions when the time comes to cast one's ballot.

The general election isn't until November 2, but in the meantime, there are a number of primary elections that should be of interest to 21st Century Jeffersonians. One in particular will be the Republican primary for the Alaska At-Large House seat, which will take place on August 24. In this election, the voters of Alaska will have a chance to promote Jeffersonian values by removing an abjectly anti-Jeffersonian person from office.

The present incumbent in Alaska is Congressman Don Young, who is a case study for much that is currently wrong with Congress. Having held his seat since 1973, he has made a name for himself as one of the most adept representatives in funneling federal tax dollars to his state via pork barrel spending. Pork barrel spending has gotten completely out of control in Congress and is one of the reasons the federal government is in such a fiscal mess. It also undermines federalism by allowing the federal government to stick its nose into state and local issues, where it doesn't belong.

Congressman Young was one of two man (the other being disgraced former Senator Ted Stevens) behind perhaps the most infamous example of pork barrel spending in recent history, the so-called "Bridge to Nowhere". In 2005, Congressman Young attempted to insert an earmark allocating roughly a quarter of a billion dollars of taxpayer money to construct a bridge to Gravina Island in Alaska, which has a population of about fifty people. After massive public outcry against the earmark, Congress stripped it from the legislation, but only over Congressman Young's strident protests.

The Bridge to Nowhere may be Young's major claim to fame, but it is only the tip of the iceberg. In 2005, Young traveled to Florida and attended a fundraiser organized by a real estate developer named Daniel Aronoff, which raised about $40,000 for Young's campaign war chest. Almost immediately afterwards, Young inserted an earmark into a spending bill allocating $10 million for a highway extension project in Fort Meyer, Florida, from which Aronoff stood to reap handsome financial benefits. This because known as the Coconut Road scandal, and is a clear case of bribery, since there is no obviously legitimate reason for an Alaska congressman to seek to allocate money to a minor highway project in Florida. Consequently, the Justice Department has launched a bribery investigation against Young.

Young has also been the subject of corruption investigations due to his ties with the VECO Corporation, which builds oil drilling and gas pipeline equipment, and whose CEO pled guilty in 2007 for bribing members of the Alaska state legislature. VECO exectives have donated tens of thousands of dollars to Young's campaign war chest over the years, and Young inserted numerous earmarks into spending bills which directly benefited VECO Corporation. Coincidence? I think not.

All this is bad enough, but to add insult to injury, Congressman Young once had the gall to fraudulently assert in a radio ad that he had been given a "Hero of the Taxpayers" award from the organization Taxpayers for Common Sense. This came as something of a shock to Taxpayers for Common Sense, which had done no such thing and, indeed, has constantly lambasted Congressman Young for his pork barrel spending.

Congressman Young won the 2008 Republican primary by barely 300 votes, and much of the Republican establishment in Alaksa has turned against him. He is clearly vulnerable in the upcoming primary. His challenger for the Republican nomination, Sheldon Fisher, seems like a solid candidate who, refreshingly, is highlighting the national debt as a serious issue. At this point, anyone would be better than Young, who is basically a crook and exactly the kind of office-holder Jefferson would most despise. Alaska voters would do well to vote for Fisher in order to get Young kicked out of office, thereby striking a blow against corruption and for the restoration of fiscal sanity in the House of Representatives.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Daniel Schorr: 1916 - 2010

The last of the giants from the Golden Age of Journalism has passed away. Daniel Schorr, the legendary newsman whose work spanned more than half a century, has died at the age of 93.

As a young man, Schorr worked as an Army intelligence officer in Europe during World War II. His time in the service proved useful to him when he began working as a news correspondent in Europe after the war was over, working for such respected periodicals as the Christian Science Monitor and the New York Times. Eventually, he went to work at CBS, being mentored by the great Edward R. Murrow himself.

Schorr covered such events as the Marshall Plan, the creation of NATO, the construction of the Berlin Wall, LBJ's Great Society program, illegal activities of the CIA, and the Watergate Scandal. In the last years of his life, Schorr remained active in journalism, becoming a commentator for NPR. In this capacity, he made full use of his vast knowledge and experience to put into perspective the great events taking place in America and the world in the early 21st Century.

Schorr, like all journalists worthy of the name, never allowed the powers-that-be dictate to him what he would report. He was expelled from the USSR by the Soviet authorities for defying their censorship, and his coverage of the Watergate scandal earned him a place on President Nixon's list of enemies. Schorr, fittingly, considered these to be badges of honor he was proud to wear.

Our day and age is sadly lacking journalists with the caliber of Daniel Schorr. During the years of the Bush Administration, we saw legions of journalists quietly accept made-up claims of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, making little or no effort to investigate the claims for themselves. And in the 2008 election, we saw legions of journalists effectively cheering on the Obama candidacy, making a mockery of journalistic ethics. The most important stories are all but ignored, and once-respected periodicals and media outlets focus on meaningless stories about entertainment celebrities.

Even in political coverage, true journalism has been replaced almost completely by a sick combination of entertainment and partisan editorializing. Whether we're talking about liberals like Keith Olbermann, conservatives like Rush Limbaugh, or simple idiots like Glenn Beck, these shows have higher numbers of viewers, but are virtually devoid of meaningful content, completely ignore critical issues, and are so partisan as to be indistinguishable from political party broadcasts. They do absolutely nothing to advance political discourse in this country, and achieve nothing but increasing partisanship and anger in this country, making it much more difficult to address the true threats to our republic.

Daniel Schorr was the last of his kind. We may not see his like again. Considering the sorry state of journalism in modern America, this is a fact to be much lamented. He will be truly missed.

Why is the United States Involved with Indonesian Special Forces?

This story from the Associated Press is worth a quick read, not so much for what it says, as for what it doesn't say. A decade ago, the United States military severed its training relationship with the special forces of Indonesia over possible human rights abuses. Now, according to the story, the ties are being resumed. Some people are apparently objecting to this, and some sort of controversy has resulted.

The real question we should be asking is the very one the journalist apparently doesn't even think to ask: why is the American military involved with the Indonesian military at all? Indonesia is on the other side of the planet from the United States, so why is the United States involved in its defense? The national defense of Indonesia should be the responsibility of the Indonesians, and should be paid for by Indonesian taxpayers.

The United States has its military fingers in the pies of many nations. The vast majority of overseas American military deployments and training relationships with the militaries of other nations are of little or no importance to the defense of the United States, but are merely intended to expand American influence overseas.

If we are ever to realize the dream of becoming a truly Jeffersonian republic, we must abandon notions of expanding American "influence" and protecting "American interests" in parts of the world. If other countries want to trade with us, we can trade with them. We should encourage democracy, but never attempt to impose in. America is not, and should not be, an empire.

The media has been absent from this debate, which is among the most serious that should be taking place in the country today. Why did the journalist who wrote the story not question the rationale of the American assistance to Indonesian special forces? For that matter, why does it not question the rationale of keeping 80,000 American troops in Europe, which faces no conventional military threat? Why does it not question the rationale of keeping nearly 30,000 American troops in South Korea, which is perfectly capable of defending itself?

Let's bring our troops home and terminate our military's unnecessary relationships with the militaries of other nations. This will not only make our country safer by keeping us out of disputes that are no concern of ours, and vastly ease the danger of the fiscal crisis that poses a far greater threat to our country than any conceivable foreign enemy.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Hugo Chavez Seeks Control Over Last Independent Television Station in Venezeula

Venezuelan President Huge Chavez has been in office now for more than a decade. Although he was legitimately elected to his office in free and fair elections in 1998, and reelected twice in elections generally deemed to be fair by international observers, he has gradually increased his personal control over the Venezuelan state. Today, he seems little different than a classic Latin American tin pot dictator.

In his latest effort to solidify his hold over the country, Chavez's government is now trying to purchase a minority share of Globovision. This is the last independent television station in Venezeula, and the only one which broadcasts meaningful criticism of his leadership. If this takes place, then some of the last flickers of true political discourse in Venezeula will go out.

Chavez once was the darling of the world's leftists, due to the educational and healthcare programs he implemented after he was first elected, and the dramatic manner in which he thwarted a right-wing coup in 2002. But since then, everything has gone downhill. He has demonstrated a contempt for democracy and sought relentlessly to stifle the voices of the opposition. He is simply not a friend of humanity and has become obsessed merely with maintaining his own hold on power.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Terrorist Threat Shouldn't Be Overestimated

It is important to always keep in mind the seriousness of the terrorist threat. After all, on a single day less than a decade ago, they killed 3,000 people in New York and Washington. But it's even more important to avoid blowing the terrorist threat out of proportion. Since the purpose of terrorism is to terrorize, we can defeat the aims of terrorists most effectively by simply remaining calm and realizing that the genuine power of Al Qaeda and its allies is actually rather small.

Unlike the Nazis during World War II or the Soviets during the Cold War, Al Qaeda and its affiliates do not pose any threat to the survival of the American republic. Yes, they can inflict casualties and cause economic damage, but they are not the mortal danger to our country that many people, either out of paranoia or for political purposes, have made them out to be. Vastly more Americans have been killed in car accidents than by terrorists over the last decade, but you don't see the government declaring a War On Automobiles.

The greatest danger terrorism presents to America is through causing misguided leaders in Washington to make extremely illogical and damaging decisions because of their inability to keep things in perspective. The invasion of Iraq would never have happened without the attacks of 9/11, so every American life lost and taxpayer dollar wasted in that misadventure should be seen as an Al Qaeda success. Osama bin Laden was probably delighted when he heard of the American invasion of Iraq.

We've created an entirely new department of the federal government, the Department of Homeland Security, in response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Unsurprisingly, it has already emerged as a massive black hole into which billions of taxpayer dollars are being spent for little benefit to the average citizen. As Gene Healy of the Cato Institute points out in an excellent column, the subsequent attempts of Al Qaeda to launch terrorist attacks on the United States have failed not because of any outstanding work on the past of the American intelligence system, but through a combination of stupidity on the part of the terrorists and some astute observation and fast acting on the part of ordinary American citizens.

The Washington Post is currently running a series of articles, called Top Secret America, documenting the mass post-9/11 expansion of federal government entities designed to deal with the terrorist threat. It makes for disturbing reading. More than 1,200 government organizations and 1,900 private companies are involved in some way in counter-terrorism work, but no one seems to know exactly how much money is being spend, how many people are involved, or who is in charge of it all. This ridiculous situation was created directly by our collective overestimation of the terrorist threat.

Hyping up the terrorist threat allows politicians in Washington to cynically wrap themselves up in the American flag and look patriotic even as they push legislation that they know is not in the best interest of average American citizens. Rather than tackle problems that actually do pose a long-term threat to the American republic, like the national debt or the ever-increasing power of corporations over the lives of citizens, it better suits our so-called "leaders" in Washington to rant on and on about the evils of terrorism. This, in truth, suits the terrorists just fine, as it simply increases their power to terrorize. The fact of the matter is that, with or without intending to do so, the terrorists and the cynical politicians in Washington feed off of each other, and neither could survive without the other.

Terrorism is one problem among many faced by the United States in the modern age. We should approach it with the same logic and rationality with which we would approach any other problem, whether it's the fiscal crisis or finding a way to reduce deaths caused by traffic accidents. Unreasonably inflating the terrorist threat gives Al Qaeda and its allies a mystique they don't deserve, which simply increases the power of the terrorists and allows unscrupulous politicians in Washington to get off the hook for failing to address more important problems.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Recent Supreme Court Decisions a Mix of the Good, the Bad, and the Very Bad

Looking back on the 2009 term of the Supreme Court (which, despite its name, took place mostly in 2010), we can look over a large number of decisions handed down by the Roberts Court. Some are good, some are bad, and one in particular is very, very bad.

First, the good.

In McDonald vs. Chicago, the Court ruled that the inability of the federal government to pass laws violating the right to bears arms, which the Court had recently solidified in the Columbia vs. Heller decision (which centered on the District of Columbia), also applied to state and local governments. This decision will greatly strengthen Second Amendment rights throughout the country, and it is something that 21st Century Jeffersonians should cheer about.

In a victory for both gay rights and the separation of church and state, the Court ruled in Christian Legal Society vs. Martinez that a Christian group at the University of California cannot deny the right of homosexual students the join their organization if it wishes to receive financial support from the university, which is supported by public funds. This decision reinforces the point that taxpayer dollars cannot be used for discriminatory purposes or to fund specifically religious activities.

In Graham vs. Florida, the Court laid down the opinion that giving juveniles life in prison without the possibility of parole for crimes other than homicide. If locking as child up in prison for the rest of their natural life is not cruel and unusual punishment (and hence prohibited by the Eighth Amendment), then nothing is.

Second, the bad.

In the Holder vs. Humanitarian Law Protect, the Court ruled that even speech can be considered a provision of material support for terrorism. This outrageous decision subverts the freedoms ensured by the First Amendment, and should have been much bigger news that it actually was. Bizarrely, even advising an organization designated as a terrorist group to renounce violence can now be considered as providing material support to terrorism. This was a nonsensical decision and one we will regret.

In Berghuis vs. Thompkins, the Court made the rather illogical ruling that a person under arrest has to specifically and vocally assert his or her right to remain silent. Citizens posses constitutional protections under natural law, and they do not need to vocally assert them in order to have them. This decision undermines Miranda rights and should concern all 21st Century Jeffersonians.

And finally, the very, very bad.

The best known decision of the term, Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, was also the most disastrous. In yet another 5-4 ruling, the Court decided that laws limiting financial campaign contributions by corporations were an unconstitutional violation of free speech. In equating money with speech, the Court essentially opened the floodgates to unlimited masses of corporate dollars that will swamp elections across the country. Holding to the ideal of "one-citizen-one-vote" is critical if the dream of a truly Jeffersonian republic is ever to be achieved, and this decision was a body blow to that ideal.

Dealing with the nefarious influence of money on the American election process one of the greatest challenges our nation must deal with, through the enactment of comprehensive campaign finance reform and the implementation of a system of public financing. With this disastrous decision, the Supreme Court set back progress in that battle by decades, if not a century.

The sad truth, which has been recently reinforced by the confirmation hearings for Elena Kagan, is that the Supreme Court has long since evolved from being a constitutional judge to being a partisan tennis match. We even, without irony or outrage, refer to the Court's "liberal" wing and "conservative" wing, forgetting the fact that there should be only a single "constitutional" bloc. This term had a blend of good and bad decisions, but also highlighted continued problems with what the Supreme Court has become.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Obama's Nuclear Weapons Reduction Plan Doesn't Go Far Enough

Nuclear weapons have been in the news lately, as the United States and Russia recently signed a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). The treaty will limit the number of deployed warheads to 1,550 each and the number of nuclear armed missiles and bombers to 700 each, as well as establishing a new system of inspections allowing both countries to verify that the other is fulfilling their treaty obligations. It's a good treaty, and its ratification by the Senate should be easier than the recent partisan votes on healthcare and financial reform.

However, the treaty makes no specific mention of nuclear warheads that would left left in storage rather than deployed on missiles or in bombers. This is not as major a flaw in the treaty as it may appear, since a nuclear warhead that has no missile or bomber is militarily useless, and you can't exactly build a nuclear missile or bomber overnight. But it does cost a fair amount to maintain these weapons, so it rationally makes sense to reduce the overall number of warheads.

According to this article from the Washington Post, President Obama has drawn up a plan that would reduce the total number of warheads from about 5,000 to between 3,000 and 3,500 over the course of twenty years. In and of itself, this is very good. After all, the fewer nuclear weapons, the better.

The problem is that Obama's plan does not go nearly far enough. There is no rational reason to maintain an arsenal of 3,000 warheads, as a force of only a few hundred would be more than sufficient to deter any enemy from attacking the United States, or to utterly destroy them if it came to that. This blog has previously proposed that the United States nuclear arsenal be unilaterally reduced to 300 warheads and abandon its land-based and bomber-based launch systems, relying exclusively on submarines. The arguments for this approach are as sound as ever: it would easily maintain the ability of the United States to defend itself, and save American taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars a year that would otherwise be uselessly expended on weapons of mass destruction.

So, why President Obama should be warmly congratulated for making the reduction of nuclear weapons a priority, he should have the courage to go further.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Ban on Broadcasting Profanity Struck Down

This is not the most important issue facing the nation, but an appeals court has struck down as unconstitutional an FCC ban on the broadcasting of profanity, which has been in place since 2004. This is an appropriate ruling. It's not the government's responsibility to regulate public morality, and there is no way in which the broadcasting of profanity, however distasteful it might be, can endanger public safety.

If you don't want your children to hear profanity on the television, then watch stations and programs which you are sure will not have such content or, better yet, don't watch television at all. A good book or a walk in the park is a much better way to spend time than watching the idiot box anyway.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Republicans Right On Unemployment Benefits

Next week, probably not long after the replacement for the late Senator Robert Byrd is sworn in, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is likely to hold a critical vote on whether to extend federal unemployment benefits. This issue has become a fairly hot button topic in the last few weeks, especially as the economic news continues to be fairly negative, making it unlikely that job creation will accelerate much in the coming months.

With the support of a few Republicans, it is likely that Senator Reid has the 60 votes he needs to get the bill passed, which will extend unemployment benefits until November. From the Democratic point of view, this is not just about helping the unemployed, but injecting federal money into the economy in order to serve as additional stimulus. The total cost of the bill will be $33 billion.

The Republicans have put up a fight on this, which is only to be expected. But they have taken a stand not in total opposition to the extension of unemployment benefits in and of itself, but on the grounds that any extension should be paid for either by dipping into the still-unused cash from last year's stimulus package (which still amounts to something like $300 billion) or by cutting some other spending elsewhere. In other words, they're okay with extending unemployment benefits, so long as it is done in such a way as to not increase the deficit.

This is the right approach, and Senator Reid should have taken them up on their offer (assuming it wasn't a bluff). In an ideal world, of course, helping the unemployed would be the purview of state and local government, or perhaps no government at all, but until we reform our society into the Jeffersonian republic it should be, we have to deal with the world as it is. The economy remains bad, and unemployed people are in trouble. No one denies that. But if the federal government is going to help, it should be done in a way that doesn't increase the deficit.

The unused stimulus money is still just sitting there. The Democrats themselves are saying that extending unemployment benefits would be great way to stimulate the economy. If they truly believe this, then why don't they dip into the unused stimulus funds? It would be a way to help the unemployed and stimulate the economy, while avoiding having to steal money from our grandchildren in the process. And the sight of Republicans and Democrats working together for a change would probably be refreshing for the American people, too.

American Attack on Iran Would Be Madness

Last week, Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Senator John McCain (R-AZ), and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) visited Israel. During their trip, all three made statements regarding the suspected covert Iranian program to develop nuclear weapons, indicating that an American military strike on Iran as a distinct possibility.

Such an attack would not only be unwise. It would be insane.

It is highly probable that Iran is, indeed, engaging in a covert nuclear weapons program, and no one can deny that Iranian nuclear capability would be a matter of grave concern both to the nations of the Persian Gulf, the United States, and the world as a whole. America should work with its allies and partners, using every diplomatic and economic means at its disposal (carrots as well as sticks) to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons. But an actual military strike would lead to consequences potentially far worse than a nuclear-armed Iran.

First, there is no way of being sure that an American strike would be able to destroy Iran's nuclear program. The Iranians aren't stupid, and have doubtless studied with great interest the American air campaigns that have been waged against Iraq and Serbia in the last decade or so. Whatever nuclear facilities exist in the country are undoubtedly deep underground, dispersed over wide areas, with heavy redundancy built in. It's extremely unlikely that even the most successful air campaign would be able to destroy them all.

Second, an American attack on Iran would shatter the domestic opposition to the ruling Iranian regime and cause wavering Iranians to rally around their government. Last year, the domestic opposition within Iran came close to toppling the Iranian regime, and they are surely the best hope for those who dream of a free and democratic Iran. If America were to attack Iran, the ruling regime will be able to crush its domestic opponents by painting them as American cronies, and the reform movement's potential for ultimate success would be all but ended. The ruling Iranian regime is far more afraid of its domestic opponents than it is of the United States. If America launched a military strike, it would effectively be doing the Iranian regime a huge favor.

Third, any attack of Iran could not be limited to a mere air strike, but would immediately result in a full-scale war in the Middle East which the United State can ill afford to wage. Every Iranian missile would be fired at every American base within range, and Iranian special forces troops would doubtless be unleashed against us in Iraq and perhaps Afghanistan as well. Our present military operations leave us with few available forces to deploy against Iran, and the present fiscal crisis means that we would be unable to pay for a war that would likely be far bloodier and more costly than either the war in Iraq or the war in Afghanistan.

Fourth, all the progress America has made in extracting itself from the Iraqi morass and in defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan would immediately be thrown away. The Shia elements within Iraq would side with the Iranians, who have long been their allies and friends, and we could expect a massive uprising against American forces in response to the attack on Iran. Such a scenario would make the dark days of the Iraqi insurgency from 2004 to 2006 look like a picnic, and we could easily see thousands of American casualties within a very short time. Even worse, a direct attack on Iran would possibly make the Iranians ally themselves with the Taliban, with whom they have previously been on very dubious terms. The Taliban continue to resist American forces in Iran with surprising effectiveness; imagine how much more effective they might become if they began receiving shipments of Iranian money and weapons.

Fifth, an attack on Iran would instantly throw the global economy into a tailspin, as Iran can easily stop all oil shipments out of the Persian Gulf by blocking the Straits of Hormuz. Iran is well-equipped with self-produced Silkworm anti-ship missiles, which are easily transported and hard to find. With the ease of flipping a switch, Iran can cut the world off from one-third of its oil supply. It's not hard to imagine what this would do to oil prices around the world, or what effect it would have on already jittery global markets. Even the threat of this happening would be a disaster. Considering the still-fragile nature of the global economic recovery, such a disaster might be enough to plunge the world into an outright depression.

Sixth, such an attack would be a violation of both international law and American law. Article Two of the United Nations Charter, which was signed by President Truman and ratified by the Senate, clearly states that no state can attack another state except in clear cases of self-defense. Article Six of the Constitution makes it clear that treaties signed and ratified by the United States are part of the supreme law of the land. Therefore, an attack on Iran would be illegal. You can't just throw away international treaties, much less the Constitution itself, whenever you feel like it.

While America should not openly declare that military action is off the table, so as to lend necessary weight to our diplomatic efforts, it must be obvious to any rational person that attacking Iran would be the act of a madman. Another solution to the Iranian nuclear issue must be found.

I think it's also worth pointing out that American concern over this issue would be greatly reduced, it not made wholly unnecessary, if our nation adopted common sense energy policies that eliminated our dependence on foreign oil. If we did that, then we could simply say good riddance to the Middle East, leaving it to solve its own problems. From the standpoint of 21st Century Jeffersonianism, the less we have to do with the Middle East, the better. But that's a subject for another blog post.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Despite Its Flaws, the Financial Bill Should Be Passed by Congress

Second only to the much-debated healthcare bill that became law in March, the financial reform bill known as the Dood-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, now in the final stages of the legislative process in Washington, is the most significant piece of legislation to have appeared on the floor of Congress since President Obama took office. As with the healthcare bill, this legislation is ambiguous at best, with some excellent aspects side-by-side with deeply troubling ones. But despite its flaws, the proposed financial reform package is something that 21st Century Jeffersonians should get behind.

Thomas Jefferson deeply distrusted the centralizing tendancies of the federal government in Washington, and he worked tirelessly throughout his career to keep political power as localized as possible. But more than anything else, he feared the power of uncontrollable financial institutions, lead by Alexander Hamilton and his "stockjobbing" minions, which threatened the prosperity and the very way of life of the yeoman farmers whom Jefferson loved so well. If Jefferson could speak to us today, he would talk as much, if not more, about the threat posed by the unchecked greed of Wall Street executives as of the threat posed by an over-zealous government in Washington.

The economic crisis of the past few years, which continues to fester in the form of stubbornly high unemployment, was directly caused by the callous and cynical greed of a very few men and women on Wall Street, and it is imperative that the government take steps to ensure that such a travesty cannot happen again. 21st Century Jeffersonianism strictly believes in small government, but also maintains that it is the government's responsibility to intervene in certain cases where it is necessary to protect citizens from being exploited. In the case of Wall Street reform, this is certainly one of those cases.

As summarized by a write-up on the bill by the Los Angeles Times:

Its major provisions include a new council of regulators charged with protecting the financial system against large-scale threats such as the one posed by the last housing bubble; new authority for regulators to take over and dismantle financial institutions that are failing; more safeguards and transparency for financial derivatives; strict limits on how much a bank with insured deposits can invest in hedge funds and private-equity firms; and a new, independent group of regulators to protect consumers against predatory or misleading financial products.
It is undeniable that the bill will expand the power of the federal government over the financial sector of the country, and as such should give 21st Century Jeffersonians pause. But the lack of legislative action will simply give Wall Street a blank slate to continue the same activities which lead to the recent economic crisis in the first place, thus presenting the disquieting possibility that a similar situation could happen again in a few years. Weighing the question in the balance, the good provisions of this bill outweigh the bad ones. An imperfect bill is better than no bill at all.

Two of the most important provisions of this bill are the limitations placed on banks in terms of their ability to invest in hedge funds and private-equity firms and the regulations against predatory and misleading financial products. These measures will help prevent citizens from being exploited by unscrupulous Hamiltonian stockjobbers, who have been making fortunes off the backs of hard-working Americans.

The provisions of the bill will expand the power of the Federal Reserve, which is far from desirable. It is an unelected institution, which was not sanctioned by the Constitution, that wields far too much influence over the American economy and, consequently, the lives of ordinary American citizens. An unlikely alliance between two members of Congress, libertarian Ron Paul (R-TX) and liberal Alan Grayson (D-FL) was able to insert a provision into the bill that would initiate a one-time audit of the Fed, but while this is welcome, it is far from the ideal of having the Fed's books open to public scrutiny at all times.

This bill is nowhere near as good as it could have been. But the alternative to passing it would be to do nothing, and therefore to let the Wall Street villains continue lining their pockets at the expense of ordinary Americans. Politics is the art of the possible, and we often have to settle for less than what we want. 21st Century Jeffersonians should support the passage of this legislation, while readying themselves for more battles further down the road.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Korean Tensions Unnecessarily Endanger American Lives

On March 26, the South Korean warship Cheonan was sunk of the western coast of the Korean peninsula, almost certainly by a torpedo fired by a North Korean submarine. Unsurprisingly, there has since been a sharp escalation in tension between South Korea and North Korea, who have been glaring at one another across the most heavily militarized border on the planet ever since the 1953 armistice that brought an end to the Korean War. Although tensions between the two enemies are a fairly routine matter, this is undoubtedly one of the most serious flare-ups on the Korean Peninsula since the end of the war.

American military personnel have been permanently stationed in South Korea since the armistice of 1953. Presently, something like 28,000 American troops remain deployed along the Korean Demilitarized Zone, and substantial American air and naval forces are also stationed in South Korea. These are part of America's security guarantee to South Korea, and would certainly be immediately drawn into any military conflict between North and South Korea.

The question is: why are American troops there at all? As Doug Bandow of the Cato Institute pointed out in a recent article on the subject, South Korea has forty times the GDP and twice the population of North Korea. Its military is qualitatively superior to that of North Korea in every category, and if its ready reserve troops are included, fully a match in terms of numbers as well. The South Koreans are perfectly capable of defending themselves in the event of a North Korean attack without American help.

As this blog has previously stated, the United States should withdraw its military forces from South Korea. The defense of South Korea is the responsibility of the South Koreans, and it should be paid for by South Korean taxpayers. There is no more reason for American troops to defend the South Korean border than there is for South Korean border guards to patrol the Rio Grande. And considering the current fiscal crisis, the billions of dollars we would annually save by withdrawing our troops from South Korea would certainly come in handy.

Indeed, North Korea would probably be very disappointed to see the American troops leave. So long as a large force of Americans remains deployed on the Korean peninsula, they present an attractive target for North Korean nuclear weapons. This gives North orea an unacceptable amount of leverage over the United States, which North Korea has often sought to use through its cosntant brinkmanship, essentially offering to back down from threat after threat if the United States buys them off. Such an intolerable situation cannot be allowed to continue.

Some will look at the Cheonan incident and the subsequent increase in tensions and claim that they are evidence that American military forces should remain in South Korea. In fact, the opposite is the case. Indeed, the very presence of American troops probably makes an ultimate peace settlement less likely, rather than more likely. While America should always be willing to use its good offices to help resolve international disputes, putting American soldiers in situations where they might get killed in disputes that have nothing to do with the United States is not only absurd, but criminally negligent.

The Founding Fathers warned us about the dangers of permanent entanging alliances. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the consequent end of the global Communist threat, there is no compelling reason for American troops to remain in South Korea, as North Korea does not pose any sort of threat to the United States and South Korea is fully capable of defending itself. The current tensions on the peninsula merely reinforce this point. Let's bring our people home.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Federal Judge Rules So-Called "Defense of Marriage Act" Unconstitutional

Yesterday, in a decision sure to shake up the gay marriage debate, U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro, ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional. The law, wich was passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton in 1996, defined marriage as between one man and one woman as it related to the status of married couples who receive federal benefits from programs like Social Security.

The suit had been brought by married gay couples in Massachusetts, which is one of the five states to recognize gay marriage. Because gay marriage is legal in Massachusetts, the plantiffs claimed that the federal government, in denying them the same benefits given to other married couples, was discriminating against them based on sexual orientation. Judge Tauro, who has been on the bench in Massachusetts since he was appointed by President Nixon in 1972, ruled that it was a clear case of discrimination, and therefore a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

Interestingly, Judge Tauro also ruled that the ban was unconstitutional on the grounds of federalism, ruling that the federal law violated the rights of individual states to define marriage as they saw fit. While 21st Century Jeffersonians are strongly supportive of state's rights, this particular case may prove problematic. The right to marriage is a natural right enjoyed by all, and a state government has no more right to interfere with it than does the federal government.

All in all, this is an excellent ruling, increasing the rights of the people and rolling back the federal government's encroachment on an area where it should have no authority. 21st Century Jeffersonians can hold whatever views they please about the theological, moral, or philosophical aspects of homosexuality. But when it comes to the law and the Constitution, we believe that all citizens possess equal rights and that it's unacceptable to deny a particular group the same rights enjoyed by everyone else. We should do away with attempts to ban gay marriage for the very same reason we once did away with attempts to ban interracial marriage.

More importantly, the government has no business and no right interfering in the personal lives of its citizens. As Jefferson said, "The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others." If a man wants to marry a man or a woman wants to marry a woman, it inflicts absolutely no harm on anyone, and therefore the government has absolutely no business getting involved.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Continued Threat of Terrorism Emphasizes Need for International Cooperation

News reports coming out today are revealing that a terrorist plot uncovered last year, which targeted the New York subway system, was larger than originally thought. Indeed, the plan also called for attacking targets in the United Kingdom as well as the United States. At the same time, other reports are surfacing of Al-Qaeda agents being detained in Norway, which has thus far escaped attacks by radical Islamists.

The threat of terrorism is often overblown, especially by people in the right-wing media. For all the damage and casualties they can cause, terrorists do not pose a threat to the continued survival of the American republic. The threat is certainly not sufficient to cause our nation to throw away the Bill of Rights or launch unprovoked invasions of sovereign states. But these terrorists are dangerous killers and reasonable steps need to be taken to protect ourselve from them.

The international nature of terrorism, especially loosely-organized networks like Al-Qaeda, require an international response. Only the law enforcement and intelligence agencies of many nations working together can effectively prevent terrorist acts, as the recent arrests demonstrate quite clearly.

Jefferson wisely advised us to stay out of permanent entangling alliances, but he also called for working together with other nations when they were confronted by a common threat. In the 1780s, during his tenure as one of American's chief diplomats in Europe, Jefferson attempted to organize a multi-national naval force, which would warships from France, the United Kingdom, the United States, and others, to launch a a punitive campaign against the Barbary Pirates of North Africa, who had been preying on merchant ships of many nations. Faced with the threat of international terrorism in the 21st Century, we should follow his advice and ensure a strong, unified response to terrorism, in which we act effectively with our allies.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

National Debt Crisis Is Not Going Away

This article in USA Today makes for some humbling reading. In spite of all the other, seemingly more immediate problems- the BP oil spill, the campaign in Afghanistan, continuing high unemployment- the massive federal deficit and the resulting gargantuan national debt continue to spiral out of the control, and this problem is going to get worse before it gets better.

President Obama's approach to the problem has so far been mostly symbolic. He has been bringing it up in his speeches more often. A few months ago, he appointed a high-profile special commission to study the debt and expects it to report back in December. In and of itself, that's fine, but it also gives the President cover to avoid taking serious measures on the problem right away. The Republicans have been ramping up their attacks on the President over the debt issue, which is also fine, but it overlooks the fact that they themselves, when in power, took a large federal budget surplus and transformed it into a massive debt. On this issue, neither the Republicans nor the Democrats have any credibility.

The problem will only get worse. As more and more Baby Boomers retire, the annual costs of Social Security, Medicare, and other legislatively-mandated programs is going to go through the roof, and massive cuts in spending or massive increases in taxes (or worse, both) will be necessary to meet these fiscal demands. This undeniable fact is bearing down on us like a freight train, but both Republicans and Democrats have their heads in the sand, pretending that the problem doesn't exist.

President Obama says that he wants to reduce the deficit "in a way that doesn't hurt the economy and doesn't hurt ordinary people." This might be an admirable sentiment, but it completely misses the point. The massive deficit and debt will require a fundamental transformation in the relationship between the federal government, the states, and the citizens of the country. We are going to have to go back to the ideals of Jefferson, where the federal government was simply not much of a presence in the lives of ordinary people. To the extent necessary, state and local governments will have to take over much of the role currently filled by the federal government, and many large departments of the federal government are simply going to have to be abolished, for there will simply not be enough money to run them.

But the most important fact is that ordinary people are going to have to regain the attitude of their ancestors, and restore the principle of self-sufficiency in their lives. The world is far too complex for us to go back entirely to the ways of the late 18th and early 19th Centuries, and one would be foolish to believe, as the modern Libertarian Party apparently does, that we can do without government altogether. But the undeniable fact is that government is going to have to be massively scaled back, and the sooner we get to grips with this fact, the better.